Humor isn’t just the middle name of our Center. The search for humor has been a big part of my professional life for 25 years as a comedian, actor, playwright, and now as Executive Director of the Center for Art, Humor Soul. Asking the question, “What is funny?” is almost always the first flash in my mind when someone has a creative idea or thought. It’s almost automatic to say “it would be funny if…”
I’ve never doubted the intrinsic value of those flashes, exploring if something could be better expressed, invite more connection, or be more enlivening if it was funny.
Author Ted Swartz with Lee Eshleman in the middle of a spit-take
in an Adam and Eve sketch.
Comedy means many things to different people. There’s a taste, or personality, to humor and what people find funny. On a wide scope, comedy can just be about the ridiculousness and complexity of life itself if we can distance ourselves just a smidge from all of the challenges and experiences, but not too much, to see it. It’s a bit of a balancing act.
“Comedy is about an ordinary person struggling against insurmountable odds without many of the tools with which to win, yet never giving up hope.” ~ Steve Kaplan
This description of comedy doesn’t get to all of the nuances of laughter and humor, but it’s a great description of a life lived in search of what makes us laugh.
One of my comedy and writing heroes John Cleese has said,
“Laughter cracks us open faster than fire. A great significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”
A few good-to-know’s about laughter:
When you laugh your body is more open—you are healthier, you have more oxygen in your blood system…and your mind is more open…and when your mind is more open…your heart is more open.
You are 30 times more likely to laugh when in the company of others. There’s something about it that creates a communal experience, establishes bonds and builds bridges.
And perhaps we humans aren’t the only species who laugh. Maybe laughing is part of the fabric of life itself. I love this story of the great apes. According to anthropologists, great apes make a noise that is close to the noises we make when we laugh. That exhalation of breath ..whoo.. whoo…whoo… is how they communicate to one another “you are safe here.” And maybe too, it is laughter that creates the safe space.
This past year, with so much serious change and unraveling and hardship, has brought us to a space just waiting for humor to break it open. When it’s become a norm to isolate and distance to create safe space, comedy and humor seems to take a back seat. But it’s in these very times that we need laughter and to find humor in the hard things. The word humor has the same root as humility, humanity, and my favorite... humus: That which is of the earth…where things are real…grounded …where growth happens…it’s what makes us fully human. Our greatest calling, to be fully human.
Random people laughing. It's contagious. Try it.
We often laugh when we are surprised
When we are delighted
When we are astonished
When we recognize truth
When we recognize ourselves.
So in this time of rapid change and different social norms...within your important and serious work this week, my hope for you is to remember to laugh…to say…you are safe here.